What is spiritual direction?
Although “spiritual” direction may sound pious or arcane, the term assumes that all of us, religious or not, are spiritual by virtue of our humanity and live out our human spirit in innumerable concrete ways; spirituality, therefore, can be a daily choice, a daily practice.
The word “direction” can also be misleading. A spiritual director does not give advice but listens — and sometimes poses questions. A spiritual director is someone whose own curiosity can be of help to people as they sift through the happenings of their lives.
Spiritual direction — which typically consists of monthly, hour-long, one-on-one meetings — has been likened to walking down a corridor with windows to one side. A director invites us to slow our pace whenever we step into a pool of light, to look out the window we almost didn’t notice, and to take in whatever landscape there is to see.
Why do people seek spiritual direction?
Someone may come to spiritual direction with a particular concern in mind; for instance,
- I feel I can no longer relate to the church or religious teachings of my upbringing.
- I am having trouble reconciling my spirituality and my sexuality.
- I am not sure how to discern the direction or purpose of my life.
- I am at a loss when dealing with a complicated family situation or relationship.
- I find it hard to be my authentic self, limitations and all, in the face of people’s expectations.
- I am struggling with the reality of my own powerlessness or addiction.
- I am grappling with illness, change, or grief.
All of these are meaningful backdrops to the decision to seek spiritual direction. Yet spiritual direction is not therapy, nor is it counseling aimed at resolving problems or changing behaviors; rather, it is a sacred space in which to share with someone what is happening in the depths of our inner life. It can keep us accountable for our inner growth, remind us of who we are or what is holy, clarify our spiritual practices, strengthen our relationship with the divine, and make us more attuned to the daily experience of grace. It can help us to grasp the meaning of the events of our lives; for as T. S. Eliot observed, we have often
had the experience but missed the meaning,
and approach to the meaning restores the experience
in a different form, beyond any meaning
we can assign to happiness.
The Dry Salvages
Is spiritual direction right for me?
Spiritual direction presumes the belief that “the soul should always stand ajar” (Emily Dickinson). It is just as relevant for members of a particular religious tradition wishing to deepen their prayer lives as it is for those who find themselves outside of any such tradition. It is for anyone who desires to be seen and heard in the sometimes luminous, sometimes obscure depths of who they are. It is for anyone who wants to explore, carefully and non-judgmentally, their own experience of those places where the human spirit and the divine spirit meet.